A letter from the Executive Director

Happy Spring to all!

Here at the BFA, our six month speaking and lecture season is just about wrapped up and for many of us the focus has already turned to the field. Internally, the organization continues to grow, and this winter we have been able to bring our core staff up to a full time level of compensation. Exciting times for an organization that has had a large appetite but not the capacity to digest fully. Systems that have been functional but not elegant are being rebuilt, and structures that were cobbled together are now standing on much stronger foundations.

David Forster, our staff agronomist, and general Jack-of-many-trades is concluding the mineral depot order deliveries for the spring order. Not a minute too early for many. Luckily the spring has been in not much of a rush.

After that, his energy turns to coordinating with local chapters and partners to send in crop samples to our lab as part of the Real Food Campaign (RFC). The lab in Michigan run by RFC partner Our-Sci.net has been established this winter through the generous donations of our supporters.  This lab will be used to build out the data sets necessary to identify the spectrum of variation in crop quality and to calibrate the hand-held spectrometer we are in the process of developing. Exciting times for those who have been following the vision of the BFA.

D'Lynda Fischer, our sole staff member from the West Coast has been actively bringing a greater order than ever to many of our external facing dynamics. Preparations for our 8th annual Soil and Nutrition Conference are well under way with a number of inspiring speakers already lined up. Conference dates are November 30, 2018 for the pre-conference, and December 1 and 2, 2018 for the conference. We will be gathering again at the Southbridge Hotel and Conference center in Southbridge, Massachusetts. Mark your calendar now, registration will be opening soon! If the trajectory we are on continues, selling out is likely.

Chris Pietras, our long time rock for the website and all interactions electronic, has been re-configuring our public presence to be able to be much more interactive and to handle the traffic we expect as the full implications of the RFC become evident to the broader world. A new website will launch next month, and to be followed soon thereafter by a community portal - dubbed "Mycelia" - for Chapters, members, and anyone else interested in engaging with others excited about regenerative and biological farming, soil health, human health and their interconnectedness.

Unfortunately, Gary Neves, our loving and passionate course administrator and chapter leader coordinator has chosen to step back from his roles at the BFA after nearly 6 years at the helm. We wish him much success going forward and will always have a soft spot in our hearts for him. Thousands of us in the organization have experienced his passion and conviction, if only through emails. Thank you for everything you have done to bring the organization to where it is Gary. It was not much more than an idea when you got involved.

Kris McCue, our brilliant Hartford Chapter Leader, has joined our team to help provide guidance and support to our local chapters. Please enjoy her recent podcast interview with Judith Dreyer.

In other news, the BFA is sponsoring the upcoming GOAT Conference at the Omega institute in Rhinebeck NY, on May 7-9. GOAT stands for Gathering for Open Agricultural Technology. Thank you to the Omega Institute for their generous support for this event. Registration is now closed and we are excited to be able to bring together a broad array of open software and hardware players from at least three continents to support the larger objectives of the RFC.

The BFA has as of yet engaged publicly only in North America, although we have had interactions with and welcomed attendees to our conference from every continent except Antarctica. Our first lecture series outside of North America will occur this June with dates at the end of the month in Great Britain and on the European continent being formalized now. Anyone with links to organizations or networks that might be receptive to the work of the organization should feel to reach out and make an introduction.

May your growing season be fecund,

Upcoming chapter meetings and events

Lots of great events planned – what's going on in your area?  Learn more here, or click on the links below.
Westchester / NYC Chapter
Apr 29  Make/take home inoculants & farm tour - Hudson, NY
May 16  Vermicomposting with Monique Bosch - Bedford Hills, NY
Jun 14  Chapter meeting - Bedford Hills, NY May 12  Chapter meeting
Jun 16  Chapter meeting The Growing Great Food (and Flowers!) Working Group:
May 13  Basics of good planting: On-Farm Mineral Mixing Day
Jun 10  Troubleshooting real gardens May 18  All About Seeds - Peterborough, NH
Jun 15  Soil Testing - Peterborough, NH May 23  Chapter meeting - Athens, OH
Jul 22  Workshop: Growing and Preparing Nutrient-Dense Food for Better Health and Resilient Communities - Amesville, OH May 24  Cover crops & seed inoculation - Simsbury, CT
Jun 21  Foliar Sprays - Simsbury, CT Late May (TBA)  No-Turn Composting Bioreactor with Dr. David Johnson and Hui Chun Su

Seasonal agronomy tips

The mineral depot spring orders are in the process of being sorted and shipped out.  By May 4, all of you should have what you ordered unless you have heard differently from me.  We had a very successful spring bulk order, even if shipping took longer than anticipated, with a larger than expected volume of materials. We brought in some newly available items like greensand from Brazil.

Learn more about the
BFA mineral depot program

We also found some new items that will likely be announced for the fall depot order season, including a mined phosphate mineral from a volcanic deposit that is similar to carbonatite in terms of trace elements, calcium, and possibly paramagnetism, but with the phosphate content of soft rock phosphate.  A very intriguing option for those needing phosphorus.

This is the time of year most of us will have seedlings started, and some will be planting outside already.  Remember to use inoculants (which you can get from us throughout the growing season, until supplies run out) and foliar blends to get your transplants and seeds off to a strong start.  I like to mix up an inoculant root drench and dip my trays of seedlings, seed potatoes, bare-root shrubs, berries, and trees in it before transplanting. I also dust seeds with inoculant prior to planting.  A little goes a long way with most inoculants. The only caveat is that with most, once mixed with water, you should use immediately (within a few hours), so only mix what you need.

I also like to use a foliar applied microbial inoculant once plants have emerged and have a few leaves.  You want leaves colonized with healthy microbes to help protect them against pathogens. This year I am trying a few new (to me) ones that are specifically designed to offer protection against some of the more challenging crop diseases.  I am trying Garden Sentinel, RootShield, Actinovate, and Companion. I will report back if I find any of them particularly effective (or not).

My favorite products to use are:

  • Terra Biotics “Complete”
  • Agri-Dynamics “Rhizo-shield”
  • Tainio “Mycogenesis”

But there are many other inoculants that provide benefits, and I encourage people to try them out.

Last, about nitrogen.  Nitrogen is not standard on the Logan Labs soil test, and it is conspicuously missing from most of our discussions of mineral balance and amendments.  That is because it is probably the trickiest element to manage. Nitrogen needs change depending on soil conditions, weather patterns, crop species, density, irrigation, organic matter, and many other factors.  Even the time it takes for a sample to reach the lab can have dramatic effects on the reported level of nitrogen, so it is not even included in the standard test. In general, for most crops, it is theoretically possible to not need supplemental nitrogen to get good results.  But this is often a challenge. If your soil has good organic matter levels, a thriving population and diversity of soil life, and if you can keep temperatures and moisture levels reasonably stable throughout the entire growing season, you can grow many crops without adding nitrogen.  But you must have cobalt and molybdenum present, as well as the microbes that can use atmospheric nitrogen.

For many growers, there is a good argument for adding some extra nitrogen, certainly for yield, but also for crop quality improvement.  The key with nitrogen is to use an appropriate amount (usually much less than conventional growers use, and somewhat more than most small organic growers use), and in the correct form.  Organic growers want to make sure they are not using too much “hot”, rapidly available nitrate nitrogen often found in abundance in manure. A small amount of nitrate nitrogen is most helpful in spring, when conventional growers can use small amounts of ammonium nitrate or calcium nitrate to get plants off to a strong start when soils are cold and not particularly active (better, when possible, to always wait until soils warm up to optimal temps prior to planting).  Slower release organic nitrogen sources like the protein nitrogen options (crab, fish, soybean and alfalfa meals) are good to add as they take time to breakdown so their nitrogen is available later when most plants need it to build a big frame. In the conventional world, ammonium sulfate can take this role, as it takes 90 days to breakdown, minimizing leaching, and ensuring nitrogen (in the useful for fruiting, ammonium form) is available at the time the plant needs it to be building out the ability to finish the crop year.

Nitrogen is tricky, but vitally important.  Hopefully this short teaser will encourage thinking about it, reading more, and perhaps revisiting your nitrogen management plans, or maybe joining the upcoming agronomy conference call (see below) to discuss!


Agronomy conference call

with David Forster, BFA soil & farm consultant

Thursday, May 3 at 8:00pm EST – don't miss this free hour-long call – your chance to get your questions answered, and the answers to questions you didn't even know you had. Tell your friends... everyone's invited!  (BFA membership is not required).

If you have specific topics you'd like to hear about, please post ahead of time in the forum to be sure we get to your questions, and to make our limited time more effective and efficient.
Agronomy Conference Call
Thursday, May 3, 8pm EST

Call-in details

Sign up here for our agronomy newsletter, and we'll keep you posted about scheduled consulting calls

The 8th Annual Soil & Nutrition Conference

Regenerating Vitality: Realizing nature’s potential

December 1 & 2, 2018, with pre-conference on November 30

Save the date!

Interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at this year's SNC?

This unique gathering of farmers, scientists, professors, ecological designers, activists, researchers, nutritionists, naturopaths and food system advocates are coming together for a cross-disciplinary exploration of the potential to improve food quality through regenerative agriculture that builds soil, crop and ecosystem health.

Sponsorship, exhibitor, and advertiser registration to our 8th annual Soil & Nutrition is now available, and we are pleased to welcome Neptune’s Harvest.

Neptune’s Harvest products are derived from the mineral rich North Atlantic Ocean, which is nature’s perfect source for the nutrients plants and soil need. Their parent company, Ocean Crest Seafoods developed their environmentally beneficial process, which fully utilizes fresh fish. After the fish is filleted, the rest is turned into fertilizer.

For more information about the opportunities available, please view our Sponsor Packet.

Help promote the growth of this movement around food quality to change the paradigm of the agricultural, environmental and human health issues facing us today.  Join us in making the Soil & Nutrition Conference a catalytic event to advance food quality!

Understanding the Water Cycle for Soil, Climate, and Life: a workshop with Walter Jehne

Co-hosted by NOFA/Mass & The Bionutrient Food Association

May 12, 2018 | Amherst, MA

Many are beginning to understand the regeneration of soil ecosystems (and the plant communities with which they are interdependent) is critical to the sequestration of carbon, the mitigation of climate change and the future of life on earth.

But there is a vital part of the story of soil regeneration and global climate mitigation that hasn’t been as well covered as the carbon cycle – and that is the global water cycle. Australian soil microbiologist Walter Jehne spends a lot of his time considering and explaining the role of the water cycle in the regulation of the planet’s heating and cooling processes.

Designed for farmers, land managers, and students of natural resource conservation, environmental science, and sustainable farming and food systems, this program will provide a deep look at the intersection of soil regeneration practices and the restoration of hydrological processes. Participants will gain insight and inspiration toward practices they can apply to their own farms and gardens, as well as a larger context of theory that integrates our knowledge of the water cycle and its role in regulating global temperature with current efforts toward conservation and regeneration of living soils.

In this day-long intensive workshop, this internationally-recognized scientist will take participants back to the beginning of soils and explain the implications of pedogenesis on our contemporary thinking about soil regeneration. He will describe the ways in which soil and plant ecosystems regulate and control the water cycle, and therefore impact energy systems on earth, as heat is embodied, drawn down, or released in phase transformations.

Cost for the day workshop is $72, and $60 for NOFA/Mass and BFA members.
Scholarships are available.

Register today at https://www.nofamass.org/events/understanding-water-cycle-soil-climate-life

About Walter Jehne

Walter Jehne is an internationally-recognized Australian climate scientist and soil microbiologist and founder of Healthy Soils Australia.  Jehne was one of the early researchers on glomalin, mycorrhizal fungi, and root ecology, and has been a leader in the grassroots movement to educate farmers, policymakers, and industry alike on the crucial role of soil ecosystems in global climate change. He has since been working at the national (CSIRO – Australia’s scientific research organization) and international level (UN) to create global change in food systems and climate response.


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